Tuesday, December 21, 2010


"Life is partly what we make it, and partly what is made by the friends we choose." - Tennessee Williams

The past few months have been some of the best that I've had in recent years.  I used to think that Los Angeles was a place where good, close friends were hard to find.  That is %100 accurate if you are looking in the wrong place.  What makes it more difficult, is to even know where to look.  It seems that many people in their twenties and thirties are still trying to figure out what they want to be when they grow up.  There's an inherent insecurity that comes with the disconnect between who we are now and who we want to be.

For the first few years that I was here, that disconnect for me was huge.  Even through much of the self-discovery and positive changes that I made, I didn't develop too many close friendships.  For a large portion of that time, my perception of who I was depended deeply on my relationship with my ex-girlfriend, as opposed to my relationship with myself.  Over the past two years, the soul searching I've done as a single dude has ultimately led to a broad-stroke simplification of my life.  This has made it much easier to develop those close friendships that I was looking for.

Instead of focusing so much on what I want to be, I've just been doing what I want to do.  Most of what I want to do is running related.  It almost always involves the Coyotes, or trails that my involvement with them has lead me to run on.  I've not made these new friends because they are there.  I've made them friends because they are good people.  They share my passion.  They like to run, they like to drink beers, they like karaoke.  They are people that I want to be like when I grow up.  They aren't selfish, but not because they are trying not to be.  They are inspiring, and they don't care that they are inspiring.  They run free.

One of these friends, Gabi, pretty much fixed my foot.  It's been fucked up for a few months now, and I've done tons of research and been seen by a podiatrist and chiropractor and still it hurt. Since Gabi worked on it last Thursday night, I've run twice with no problems.  She didn't have to help me out, she did it because she's a good friend, and she asked nothing in return.  We ran up Mt. Wilson together on Sunday afternoon.  It was cold, pouring rain and windy.  We couldn't see anything other than the fire road, really.  We could see the trees surrounding us and the steep rocks above and below the trail, but there were no beautiful vistas.  All we could see were the clouds we were in and the rain blowing in our faces.  The rain pouring down on our hoods made it difficult to hear.

We climbed 9 miles in 2.5 hours, and when we were close to the top Gabi wasn't feeling great and we still had a few miles to go.  If I'd run this trail solo that day, I would've turned around far earlier, and I told her that we could turn around at any point if she wasn't feeling well.  She said "I didn't run for the last few hours in the pouring rain up the side of a mountain to not get to the top."  We got to the top of the mountain, and although my hands were freezing and the wind was throwing cold rain in our faces, it felt glorious.  We ran down the mountain in an 1 hr 10 mins after the 2.5 hour ascent.  Halfway down the mountain we reached Henninger flats and the clouds cleared enough for us to see the beautiful mountain we were running on, and just enough to see the city a few thousand feet below.  It was BREATHTAKING.  It was SO WORTH IT.  This run was EPIC.  Afterwards, I felt physically better than I have after ANY run for the last 4 months.

This brings me back to the quote on the top of the page.  If I hadn't met the Coyotes, more importantly, if I hadn't met Gabi, I wouldn't have had this experience.  I'm incredibly grateful for my new friends, and hope that these few months have just been the beginning of great times to come.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Pleasure of Pain: Santa Monica 50K Report

"The Obsession with Running is Really an Obsession with the Potential for More and More Life"~George Sheehan

My friend Joe T has a rule that you shouldn't say something unless it is informative or funny.  I don't think bloggers generally follow that rule all of the time, but for your sake, I hope this race report will be both.

Although every race that I've run has been an exciting journey both leading up to and during the event itself, this race meant more to me than the previous 3.  It's hard for me to remember sometimes that I'm new to this sport.  Whether that even matters depends on who you ask.  Everyone has goals - short term or long term, professional, personal, spiritual, physical - it doesn't matter.   Everyone's got 'em.  I choose to set more goals than the average person, but not because I feel the need to have achievements.

I think I set more goals because I want to live a fuller life.  I want to have as many experiences as I can, and setting goals forces me to push my limits.  When the alarm clock goes off at 4:15 AM, and a choice has to be made, if I didn't have goals I would choose to sleep in.  I could just run a little after work, or not run as far.  Or not run at all.  But then, what would I do?  Just go to work feeling tired?  Afterward go and have some drinks somewhere, then go home and do it all again the next day?  I'm gonna give that idea the dolphin. You know.... eh eh (Dolphin noise?  No?  Not feelin' it?).  Whatever.

I choose to set goals that require me to live almost every day to the fullest.  Although I love running, in order to be driven to do what I love I need goals.  For me, the less achievable the goal, the better.  The harder I have to work, the farther that goal will take me on that journey.  For this race, my goal was to finish in the top 10 overall and in under 5 hours.  For someone with my running background, those goals were quite lofty.  In my mind they were attainable, though.  I mean hey, I'm a stud, right?  Don't answer that.

Anywho... I'd finished Bulldog in just over 5 hours, and felt more confident before this race in every aspect of my running.  Even though I took a month off from late September to late October, I'd gotten a few 45 mile weeks in leading up to the race, and ran strong at the end of my back to backs on the weekends.  At some points, Bowman and I had been running sub 7 minute miles on the downhills deep into our long runs.

The week before the race, the forecast for race day was cold and wet.  There was a 60% chance of precipitation.  Much of the course is on exposed hillsides overlooking the Pacific, so chances are it would be windy, too.  I still had high hopes, though, and wasn't too concerned with the weather.  What I WAS concerned with was the DUMB decision I'd made to buy a bed a week before to race instead of registering.  The registration fees weren't that much, but the bed was expensive, and I couldn't have both.  I figured that it was a smaller race and that it probably wouldn't sell out, so I could just register the Friday before the race when I got paid.  Thursday night I logged on to Facebook and saw a friends post that the race was SOLD OUT.  I was DEVASTATED.  I'd wanted so badly to run this race, and now it looked as though there was no chance I would be able to.  All because I chose to buy something that I didn't absolutely NEED, instead of registering to do something that I absolutely LOVE.  DEVASTATED.

Luckily for me, my friend GABI SCHENKEL knew the race director, and sent her an email for me.  Because of Gabi, I was able to run the race despite my poor choice.  Gabi, THANK YOU!  I was so relieved when I found out that I could still race, and I returned to my anxious and excited state of pre-race existence.

The day before the race, I relaxed.  I cleaned up my apartment a little bit, ate a lion's share of gelato, had a beer or two and went to sleep around 930.  The race wasn't until 830 Sunday morning, so I got a full 8 hours before waking up at 530 to eat breakfast and start my routine.  My roommate, Elya Beer, had given me a 25 dollar iTunes gift card on Saturday that he didn't need.  I bought some music that I'd been wanting for a while, loaded it up on my iPhone, and hopped in the car for my drive out to the Bu (Malibu).  It had been pouring rain when I woke up, but as I drove, the clouds started to clear up.  When I got to the start area it was gorgeous outside.  It was a little bit windy/chilly but comfortable racing weather.  I registered, met up with Bowman, and we put our drop bags at the pass through.

Pre-race pump up song:

The SM 50K course is two loops on the La Jolla Canyon/Valley trail, one loop in Sycamore Canyon, and one out and back on Ray Miller.  We started on time at 830, and Bowman and I settled in behind about 15 or 20 runners.  There was a 30K race also, which started at the same time, so we figured that most of the people ahead of us were in that race.  We ran the first mile a little fast at a 1030 pace (it's up a fairly steep hill in a canyon) but both felt pretty strong.  I was hanging behind Bowman, just watching his feet as we ran.  There was still a lot of mud on the course from the rain, and it weighed down our shoes as we ran through it.  Regardless, we kept pushing up the hill to Mugu Peak and didn't let it slow us down too much.  We were careful about our food and salt intake, eating every 20 mins and taking salt every 30.  There was one guy ahead of us for most of the uphill, who we ended up passing on the flat section through the valley.  He'd made some snarky remarks about our howling.  We didn't let it bother us.  We ran at a pretty quick pace back down the canyon but didn't push too hard.  When we got to the aid station at the bottom we both felt strong still, although my stomach had started feeling a little rough.

The first trip up Ray Miller felt pretty easy.  Although my stomach was still upset, we were running a lot of the uphill, and it was fun seeing the 18 K leaders coming down the trail.  At the top, I tightened my right shoe for the 2 mile-ish trip down the fire road to the next aid station.  This is when we made our first fairly large mistake of the day.  Even though we were only 10-11 miles into the race, we somehow let ourselves run at a sub 6 minute pace for much of the descent.  Although it didn't hurt at the time (it was actually super fun!) our mistake caught up with us on our way out of Sycamore canyon.  We decided to run the last section of fire road before the Firetrail started, and then recharge as we hiked up the single track.  Although we both said we were feeling good, I think we both knew we were more beat up than we should've been at that stage in the race.  Additionally, the end of the single track is up a super steep section of trail that neither of us were looking forward to climbing.  We pushed on, and hit the 15 Mile mark at around 2 Hrs. and 28 Mins into the race.

We were a little behind our sub 5 hr goal, but at that point we both decided to say "Fuck It" and just run the best race we could from that point on.  At this point, I could feel my 3rd metatarsal in my right foot when I ran.  It's been "dropped" since I got over the plantar fasciitis, and although I'd had some adjustments done by the chiropractor, it dropped again during this race.  Although it didn't cause major pain, the concern would weigh on me for the rest of the race.  It was actually pretty F-ing annoying.  Moving on.

We bombed it down Ray Miller (one of the most beautiful and run-able trails in So-Cal) and got to the aid station feeling pretty good.  I put my shirt back on to try and warm up a bit, and Bowman and I started our ascent back up the La Jolla Canyon trail.  That's when we really started feeling SHITTTTTYYY.  My legs were tired.  Every running step was hard, and I couldn't run for more than 2 minutes at a time uphill.  Maybe less.  Adam was getting lightheaded, and we were passed by a few people, including the 2nd female.  During our ascent up Pt. Mugu Adam told me to leave him, as he was really not feeling well and didn't think he could even run the downs.  I wasn't feeling great myself, but I pushed along into the abyss by myself.  Along the hillside overlooking the ocean I ran into the wind, dealing with the annoyance from my right foot and trying to stay hydrated.  Things weren't great.  I didn't want to run, but there was another guy who had passed me and I decided I wanted to make a race out of it.  Once we got to the slight downhill before the flats, I slowly moved closer behind him before he moved over so I could pass.  I ran ahead of him for the next two miles or so, and then stopped to take a pee.

This is when I knew that things were not so good for old Jorge.  First, peeing was difficult, then when I did my pee looked like Cholula.  Ok, maybe not that bad, but it was orange.  Around this time, the one guy passed me again (yep, while I was "peeing").  I knew I was dehydrated, and had been paying attention/was worried as shit about my water situation for the last few miles.  Well, I was now out of water, and was 2 1/4 miles from the next aid station.  DOUBLE SHIT.  Luckily for me, I had pride and nothing but downhill to keep me going.  I let my legs go and allowed the hill to carry me down.  I passed the one guy and saw people just starting their 3rd loops as I made my way down.

FINALLY!  I arrived at the aid station where CRAIG SLAGEL (the man, the myth, the legend) was dishing out delicious treats and GLORIOUS, GLORIOUS WATER.  He told me that I didn't look so bad, in fact, I'd be fine if I chugged a few bottles of water there at the station before starting my final climb up Ray Miller.  Additionally, my roommate ELYA BEER appeared outta nowhere to cheer me on.  I'd expected my little sisters to show up, but they forgot (what a surprise), so it was a great surprise to have a fan section.  Anyway, the one guy had rolled into the aid station a minute or so after me, and I wanted to get a head start going up Ray Miller.  I tried to leave the aid station looking strong to intimidate him going into the last climb, but I don't think it worked.  About 400 yards up the trail he passed me as I was taking in some calories.  BUMMER.

I asked the one guy how old he was to see if he was in my age group, and in fact he was.  I gave him a little congrats for running strong up the hill, and he replied that he had to get as much of a lead on me as he could while climbing because I would surely pass him on the downhill.  Well, I surely did.  Even though he ran every step of the ascent up Ray Miller (a truly impressive feat after running 26.5 hilly miles) he didn't gain enough distance on me to maintain his lead.  I ended up passing him halfway down the hill, and finished strong in 12th place in 5:46:06.  My legs were quivering, and I was wrecked, but it felt SO SO GOOD.

The Pleasure of Pain

That feeling is one of the things I love the most about running far.  To push through.  To do what I want .  That is freedom.  It gives a sense of confidence in all areas of life.  That regardless of what may happen, you can get through it if you want.  I haven't been in every situation, but I'm sure that practice doesn't hurt.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sum Up/Longest Post Ever

Greetings, reader!  Ha.  That's corny, but seriously.  Greetings, reader!  In order to completely understand my various forms of weirdness, you need to have an idea of how I got to where I am.  This post is what Inigo Montoya (the guy looking for the six fingered guy in The Princess Bride) would call a Sum-up.

First of all, I'd like to start by saying that this is the most anticipated blog in the history of blogs, and because you're reading it, you are helping make history.  There are few people who actually care what I have to say about stuff, so CONGRATULATIONS!  You are one of the ELITE!. 

I haven't always been a runner BUT I have always liked adventures.  I used to ride my bike as far away from my house as I could when I was a kid.  I would rollerblade or skateboard far away when I got older.  Stand By Me was my favorite movie.  Well, maybe Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.  Not important.  The point is, I love adventures.  As I've gotten older, though, I've struggled to find ones that are healthy/inexpensive/legal.  Until I learned that I could run far.

I used to like running around when I was a kid.  When I was a teenager, I hated it.  I was on the Tennis team in high school, and the golf team, and the football team.  The worst part about playing sports was having to F'n run.  I was a smoker.  I was out of shape, too.  That was the case throughout high school and for the first year and a half of college.  I got in better shape in college, but was too busy partying to care about my overall health.  I just wanted to look good naked.  I know.  Vanity is unattractive.  So is having a big gut and love handles.  I did it for the ladies.  Any-who! Not important.

When I moved to LA, I continued the unhealthy lifestyle for a while, but eventually my irresponsibility made my life pretty freakin' difficult.  I was having some real problems with pretty basic stuff, like paying rent and affording food.  My girlfriend at the time (how anyone actually put up with me, I don't know) moved to LA to be with me, and I decided that I was going to change my life.  It was for pretty selfish reasons, but nonetheless, it was a choice.  I didn't want to be the reason for problems in my relationship.

I joined a gym and lost a bunch of weight.  I started eating healthy food.  Making my own lunch.  You know, responsible, adult-ish stuff.  Around this time I started to enjoy running again.  I would always push myself to run farther and faster (on the treadmill).  Eventually I started running up Runyon Canyon on the weekends, sometimes TWICE.  Haha.  Then my knee started to hurt, and I had to stop.  I figured, I'm a bigger guy, maybe running and Jorge just don't mix.  So I swam a bunch.  Then I'd hike.  When my knee was better I'd run a little more.  I couldn't commit to it though, because my knee hurt.  I did crossfit for a while, and got in incredible shape.  I was faster and stronger than ever.  But eventually, I got sick of being in a freakin' gym ALL THE TIME.  I started working out less, sleeping in more.  More unhealthy-sh habits.  I didn't completely unwind, but I was in the process.  Wooohoo.

THEN.  Magic happened.  The girl who I became a more responsible person for (now, and at this point in the story, a friend) challenged me to run the LA Marathon.  I can't turn down a challenge.  Especially not from  A GIRL.  So, we decided to train together.

I trained for 6 weeks and did a 17 mile run and a 20 mile run.  I also changed my foot strike to land on my forefoot, as I'd either read somewhere or been told that this was the right way to run.  I got tendonitis in my achilles tendons, but I swam instead of running to get over it and train at the same time.  AND no knee pain!  Race day, I felt solid, and ran a 4:26 Marathon.  Other than the bottoms of my feet hurting, I felt fine after.  Immediately, I thought to myself:  Wasn't this supposed to be a RACE?  Why don't I feel completely SHATTERED?  I must have just not run fast enough.

So a week later I started a solo 16 week training program for the San Francisco Marathon.  I researched a proper mileage buildup and bought a Garmin Forerunner 405, which kept track of my pace/heart rate/everything possible.  I got some new running clothes at Top to Top (Running store), and started running 5 days a week.  One of my customers saw a picture of me running, and saw how pale my legs were, and that's how I got my nickname ("White Lightning" -- LESLIE COHN is an amazing girl, and she had custom headbands and wristbands made for me, which I wear for every race and most training runs).  Anyway, I was running a lot, and enjoying it.  I set a very ambitious goal of knocking an hour off my Marathon time.  Running the streets was better than the treadmill, but the loops started getting old.  And the city streets sorta made me feel dirty.  Dirty like a bum's undies.  Around this time, Garrett from Top to Top recommended that I try running with a group called the "Coyotes".  This group of trail running enthusiasts meets every Thursday in the SM Mountains to run trails with their fearless leader, Jimmy Dean Freeman.

"White Lightning"

I liked the trail runs, but they started at 6 AM (BALLS EARLY), and I didn't like driving back and forth from Hollywood to S.M. twice in one day.  I stuck with the streets most of the time.  I had a hip injury during this training period and had to take some time off, and ended up buying a pair of Vibram Five Fingers shoes.  I also read the book "Born to Run" (very inspirational, and yes, I know EVERYBODY has read this book).  Combining some theory from the book with my new weirdo shoes, I changed my stride and was able to run without hip pain again.  I think this may have been when I started going nuts.  I'd read about Ultra-Marathoners in the book and I'd heard some Coyotes talking about ultra-marathons they were doing.  I even started reading complete strangers' race reports (I know that seems weird/stalker-esque.  that's because IT IS).  Running really freakin' far started sounding not only not crazy, but fun.  I ran the SF Marathon and finished in 3:55:58.  Although it was half an hour slower than my total awesomeness goal, it was still half an hour better than LA.  AND it beat my slight awesomeness goal of a sub 4 hour finish.  I went for a hike in Muir Woods the next day and couldn't stop thinking about running the trails I was walking on.

I came back to LA and heard that some of the Coyotes were training for a race called the "Bulldog 50k".  I asked Jimmy about it, and he said I could definitely do it, but maybe the 25k would be better since I just ran the marathon the week before.  I decided to do the 50k, though.  Go big or go home, right?  He suggested that I do back to back loops on the race course (15.5 Saturday, 15.5 Sunday) so I did.  As I had to work at 9 AM that Saturday, I had to be finished with this challenging loop by 8 AM, so I started running at 5AM.  RIDICULOUS. 

After my first Bulldog training loop.  That's blood.

HOWEVER - Being on a trail by myself and reaching the top of the cloudline while the sun came up was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.  I fell in love with trail running.  I finished 25th overall at Bulldog, and 5th in my division.  Although I could barely walk because of the plantar fasciitis that I had the next day, I knew that I'd had a special experience.

Over the last few months I've been getting over injuries.  After I beat the P.F. (BOO-YA   Plantar, you're now officially my bitch!  j.k.  please don't come back), another foot problem came up which was explained by my doctor as "some type of itis" (yes, I paid a medical doctor, and that was his diagnosis) in the soft tissue on the top of my foot.  The pain was so bad that I took an entire month off from running.  I swam 5 days a week to stay in shape, and waited for the opportunity to run again.  That opportunity came when I went to Fountain Hills, AZ.  I had gone out to crew some fellow Coyotes for a 100 mile race they were running (Javelina Jundred), and hadn't planned on doing any running at all.  I didn't even bring running clothes (which I learned is never smart when you go somewhere w/Coyotes).

Sunset over Javelina Jundred

On a Saturday night in the middle of a desert, a woman came by our tent looking for a pacer for her husband, Mark Kirkby.  Mark had a few of his pacers bail out the day before the race, and the lone pacer that showed up for him needed a rest after pacing his 5th loop.  As I hadn't run in a month, I didn't say anything, but about 15 minutes later Jimmy convinced me to pace.  I borrowed some running SHORTS from Jimmy, and a jacket and socks, and paced Mark for his 6th loop (15.5 miles).  It was an incredible experience.  Mark ended up beating his time from 2009, and placed 16th overall in his 2nd hundred.

Mt. Wilson in the Clouds

Since that weekend, I've been training for my next race.  I'm running the Santa Monica 50K this weekend, and am hoping to beat my time from Bulldog and finish top 10.  My training has been solid the last couple of weeks, with my foot pain almost completely gone.  I'm descending better than ever, and my stride feels smooth and natural.  My training partner (Adam Bowman) and I are shooting for a sub-5 hour finish.  First ever race report will be here in a couple of weeks, as well as some photos from my training.

La Jolla Canyon Trail looking South over PCH